A subsidiary of UMLand, Bandar Seri Alam or better known as the City of Knowledge, as it houses a number of higher learning institutions as well as international schools, is all set to soar to greater heights. Apart from the booming F&B outlets around the area, the upcoming Pasir Gudang Hospital, Foon Yew Secondary School and the Lee Chong Wei International Sports City is poised to make the township among the most sought after in the state. Freddie has been with Seri Alam Properties Sdn Bhd for over 20 years and has played a major role in developing Bandar Seri Alam from an oil palm and rubber plantation into a bustling satellite township.
Before getting into the property business, you were quite active in the hotel industry to an extent of holding a Director position of the then Holiday Inn Johor Bahru (currently known as Mutiara Hotel Johor Bahru). Why did you switch industries?
It was not a switch but rather a progression. I started my working life after secondary school in the hotel industry before leaving for England where I studied International Marketing and Hotel Administration.
I was attached to the Central Group of Hotels and then Holiday Inn Bristol, UK, before returning to Malaysia to work for Regent Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. I then joined Chee Tat Group in Singapore who was developing the Holiday Plaza and Holiday Inn Hotel in JB as a Project Manager. Upon completion of the project I was appointed as a Director – owners’ representative in charge of the hotel.
When Chee Tat Group decided to convert their large agricultural land bank to property development, I naturally got involved with the property project – Bandar Seri Alam was born. I was involved in the planning, relocation of the estate workers and development of the 3762 acres Township from a rubber and oil palm estate to what you see as Bandar Seri Alam today.
Can you give us a status update on the Lee Chong Wei International Sports City?
Seri Alam Properties Sdn Bhd signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Chong Wei Binajaya Sdn Bhd (CWBJ) to develop the Lee Chong Wei International Sports Academy in Seri Alam. CWBJ is now in close consultations with their appointed Architects and Consultants to finalise the development plans for Kebenaran Meranchang (KM) submission to the Local Authorities. Development on site should begin as soon as the building plans are approved.
The 3,762-acre Bandar Seri Alam is about 63% developed and will probably take another 15 to 20 years to fully develop. What other developments are being planned for the township?
Developing a vast track of greenfield land involves constant planning and re-planning the estate to achieve the most balanced and sustainable township. In view of the current economic environment, SAP has over the last few years been actively developing “Value for Money” homes in the four hundred to five hundred thousand selling price ranges to cater to the housing needs of first-time house buyers and young upgraders. All these homes are freehold landed properties in a gated and guarded environment complete with Club house and other facilities.
These homes are well received and we are achieving very good response from the buying public. We are currently building some 1000 units of these properties and all Non-Bumi units are sold.
Moving forward, we are converting our other land bank to develop more of these homes. We are also presently planning to launch a medium and lower cost project consisting about 1200 units to cater for the medium and lower income buyers. We are in dialogue with the state authorities to fast track this project for the benefit of the public.
Your opinion about the current property market and the health of Bandar Seri Alam in terms of property take up rate.
Looking at our sales report and feedback, there are still many people out there looking to buy a home. SAP is responding to this need and is actively planning and building homes within this affordable range. Our homes are selling at about RM350 per sq. foot- landed- freehold property within a gated and guarded precinct complete with Club House and amenities. This is very good value for money and we do not have enough units to sell!
There is no lack of buyers for such properties but getting end-financing for the purchasers is rather difficult due to the stringent guidelines imposed by Bank Negara. However, our prices are well supported by the valuation of such properties and we do have quite a good success rate with loan applications.
Currently, I must say there is a rather large overhang of high rise apartments and condominium which may take a few more years to clear- hopefully with some relaxation in end-financing and foreign ownership rules, especially for completed properties.
We are lucky in the sense that all of our developments at Seri Alam are landed properties. We did not build any high rise apartments and we have no problems as such.
Any updates that can be shared about the upcoming Pasir Gudang Hospital?
This is a Federal Government project undertaken by Jabatan Kerja Raya (JKR) for the Ministry of Health. We have numerous meetings with the Ministry of Health, JKR and Local Authorities pertaining to the planning and infrastructure issues. At the latest meeting, most if not all the issues have been cleared and JKR is now drawing up the plans for submission. It was reported at the meeting that the hospital will be completed by 2021.
How are all the other UMLand developments in Johor Bahru doing?
UMLand as a Group is doing well even though the environment is rather challenging. Our latest flagship, the Amari Johor Bahru hotel in our Suasana Iskandar opened for business in May and is enjoying very high occupancy. The spaces at the lifestyle and entertainment hub at the Zenith are gradually opening and the third component – the Suasana Suites Service Apartments will be opened by November 2017.
Our other housing projects like Seri Austin in Johor and Kia Aces in Semenyih, Selangor are doing very well too. Our UM City and other projects are under construction and we are confident these projects will be well received upon completion.
Are you happy with the progress of Iskandar Malaysia as a whole? Any areas to improve?
Iskandar Malaysia has been and will be the engine of growth for the Johor State. It has been well conceived and under the initiative of Iskandar, the main infrastructure, especially the roads and highways in Johor have improved tremendously.
Iskandar will do well and bring more development to the rest of Johor and Malaysia. However, it is my opinion that developments like LEGOLAND Malaysia Resort and Pinewood Studio are underutilised and has failed to generate the expected influx of population that the developers and investors had hoped for. Hope this will change when more films are being produced here.